Almost $400 Million by Changing Fonts
Figuring out how to save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars on ink is so easy a sixth grader could do it. In fact, one did.
Suvir Mirchandani, a student at a Pittsburgh middle school, decided he wanted to look for ways to reduce waste at his school. So for a science project, he measured how much ink was used in creating enlarged versions of commonly used letters in his teachers' handouts. And then he measured how ink usage would be reduced by using different fonts.
Printer ink can be quite expensive—almost double the per ounce price of Chanel No. 5 perfume, as Mirchandani tells CNN, which first reported the story.
It turned out his school district could reduce its annual ink usage by 24 percent and save $21,000 a year by switching to Garamond, a lighter font with thinner, less ink-heavy strokes.
After submitting his work to a journal for young researchers run by Harvard grad students, Mirchandani was encouraged to expand his research.
The task was tougher. But the potential savings were much, much bigger. CNN reports:
With an annual printing expenditure of $1.8 billion, the government was a much more challenging task than his school science project.
Suvir repeated his tests on five sample pages from documents on the Government Printing Office website and got similar results --change the font, save money.
Using the Government Services Administration's estimated annual cost of ink -- $467 million -- Suvir concluded that if the federal government used Garamond exclusively it could save nearly 30% -- or $136 million per year. An additional $234 million could be saved annually if state governments also jumped on board, he reported.
So will the Government Printing Office make a change? I wouldn't count on it:
Gary Somerset, media and public relations manager at the Government Printing Office, describes Suvir's work as "remarkable." But he was noncommittal on whether the GPO would introduce changes to typeface, saying the GPO's efforts to become more environmentally sustainable were focused on shifting content to the Web.
Sounds like Mirchandani may end up learning two lessons: With a little thought, a smart person can find simple ways for the government to save money—and the government doesn't seem terribly interested in pursuing them.
Peter Suderman is a senior editor at Reason magazine.